The Iron Curtain, The Bamboo Curtain and Now What?

  •  Khin Maung Myint

The end of the Second World War brought joy and relief to the whole world. However, those didn’t last long. Immediately after the War, there emerged two military superpowers and were locked in an arms race to make their military mights superior to the other’s. The two military superpowers were the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) or the Soviet Union for short. Their competition, or rather, their rivalry led to the emergence of the Cold War.
The two groups formed military alliances with like-minded nations who adopted the same ideology, to deter one another from gaining the upper-hand, and scrambled to control the world.
The USA was involved in the forming of two organizations: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) comprising most of the non-communist European countries and Canada and the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), that included only the Philippines and Thailand from South East Asia, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, France, United Kingdom and the United States. That organization was also called the Manila Pact, though not widely known. Later the SEATO was dissolved.
On the other-hand the Soviet Union headed an organization called the Warsaw Pact, comprising of the communist countries of Europe and Cuba, except Yugoslav. Though the Soviet Union did not form any official alliance group to counter the SEATO, they are clandestinely involved in almost every military conflicts that took place in S.E.Asia. In early 1960, Communist Albania broke off from the Soviet Union and aligned itself with the Peoples’ Republic of China. Today it has become one of the NATO members like most of the other former Soviet Bloc countries.
During those days, the division between the two factions was so great that reconciliation seemed to be absolutely impossible and peace on Earth was under threat. The communist countries isolated themselves from the others. They closed their doors to the Western world and those actions led to the emergence of the terms Iron Curtain and Bamboo Curtain.
These terms were used metaphorically to describe the state of isolationism adopted by certain countries during the Cold War Era that commenced not very long after the Second World War. Generally speaking, the isolationisms were born out of the differences in political ideologies adopted by certain countries. The political ideologies that were at the root of the divisions were the Capitalism and Communism.
The Iron Curtain. It was a metaphorical name given to the geopolitical or the ideological boundary that divided the Soviet Union and its satellite communist countries from the other Western nations. It originated right after the Second World War and lasted from 1945 until 1991. The events that led to the demolishing of the Iron Curtain started from the discontent in Poland and continued to Hungary, then to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. This led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact along with the Iron Curtain ceased to exist, hence bringing about the end of the Cold War too. Although it did not have structural existence apart from the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain had practically divided Europe in two—Eastern Europe and Western Europe—during its heydays.
During those days, the countries that bordered the line that separated the Eastern and Western Europe were recognized as the lines of defence for both the NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The situations were always tense and war could breakout anytime, anywhere along that line and could escalate into another World War that could lead to an all-out nuclear war. However, the leaders of both the groupings should be lauded for their rationality, thoughtfulness and the constraint they had maintained to avoid such a dreadful situation.
The Bamboo Curtain. This too was a metaphorical name of the geopolitical or ideological boundary that the Peoples’ Republic of China created to keep her citizens out of contact with the West. However, that curtain stopped to exist after 1975, when China begun its long journey to reform and open up to the West. Though still clinging on to the communist ideologies, China adopted the capitalist economic practices and invited foreign direct investments and those moves placed her right on the path to economic developments.
The above mentioned brief background history may not be comprehensive, but as it was written as an introductory phase to the analysis I intend to make hereafter, I hope it would suffice.
While the two curtains were in place, the populace of those countries behind them suffered extensively. Many sought refuge, at great risks to their lives, in Western countries where there were more freedom and opportunities than under their communist regimes. The two curtains or the self-seclusions from the international community had taught us that they did not serve any significant purpose apart from imposing restrictions and difficulties on their own citizens. The only thing they did was, deprived their citizens of freedom and opportunities to enjoy life.
Today, the world is facing another threat of a new curtain coming into existence. This time around it wouldn’t be due to the geopolitical reasons or differences in ideologies as the previous two, but because of the changes in policies in a country. Worst still is the fact that the country in question is not just any ordinary country, but one that is deemed to be the most powerful country in the world and had always been recognized as the most free and the land of great opportunities.
In the past week, the developments in the US, especially the drastic and sudden changes in the policies related to immigration, trade, labour, industries, foreign relations, defence and other sectors that could impact internationally had the whole world shocked and in suspense. Those who would be immediately affected are the refugees from all over the world and visitors from some Muslim dominant countries because of the ban on refugees and restrictions of entry to visitors from seven Muslim dominant countries. According to some media reports, many were already in the air, enroute to the US and were unable to turn back at the time the bans and restrictions came into force. Even some US citizens of foreign origins are contemplating to migrate to other countries before the impending curtain is fully put in place.
Frankly, I am not concerned with the policies restricting immigration nor the trade and labour policies nor the increase in tariffs on imported goods into the US. However, my deep concern is the controversial changes in foreign and defence policies. These are the two hottest factors that could affect the whole world. One false move can bring about a war. In these days of nuclear-capable, sophisticated and advanced weapons, plus the unpredictable, undiplomatic and arrogant leaders with erratic minds and attitudes in some countries that own such weapons, the future of our world is in very dire situations. Lately, In anticipation of such situations, some affluent people in the US are already building strong underground bunkers that could withstand nuclear attacks and stocking them up with rations and other essential commodities in preparations for any eventuality.
From my personal point of view, those people who are anticipating the end of the world to be nearing are not paranoids. This concept of a doomsday, caused by an all-out nuclear war, had been envisioned by some prominent scientists for quite sometimes now. I had mentioned that concept in my article: “Is the World Headed for Doom” (17/01/2017 GNLM). In that article I had clearly mentioned, what the consequences of an all-out nuclear war would be. The whole world would suffer if that should take place.
Thus in conclusion, let’s hope that the leaders of the superpowers will come to their senses and endeavour to avoid such a situation by not provoking others or by not retaliating in the same manner to such uncalled-for provocations. The United Nations should also be more concerned about these matters, instead of wasting time on human rights issues that are overly highlighted and exaggerated out of proportions by false and fabricated news. They should be more involved and to be more aggressive in addressing the conflicts that could lead to wars. Until now, no significant intervention is seen in the case of the South China Sea disputes or the confrontation between Russian-backed forces and the NATO forces in Poland or the random testings of nuclear weapons by North Korea. These are the most imminent flash points that could flare up into wars any moment and could escalate out of control.

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